Culture Jamming: Truly Transgressive?

The fifth chapter of Tim Jordan’s Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society introduces culture jamming, a strategy used by many activists to resist “the cultures that are foisted on us, coming not from communities or individuals or families, but from profit-seeking companies and their hired semioticians” (Jordan 102). Culture jamming, which arises at the “disjunction between familiar advertising techniques and unfamiliar message” (Jordan 102) essentially mimics the format of an existing advertisement in order to create a mirror “advertisement” that subverts the original’s normative message.

In analyzing various instances of culture jamming, Jordan determines who owns and controls certain cultural codes and who seeks to subvert them. Theoretically, as the existing cultural code exists to serve the corporations and states that fund it, subverting the language used by these corporations and states should somehow invalidate them and the social code that benefits from their support. This would make culture jamming a transgressive form of activism!, as defined by Jordan. Yet, does it manage to create new moralities that can impact the future of society? While culture jamming may create a dissonance that causes people to reconsider the often deceptive, manipulative nature of advertisements and the corporations that create them, those who take cultural codes and turn them inside out still need to play off of stereotypes and cultural norms from the past and present in order to make the new, altered imagery salient. In Jordan’s San Francisco cigarette advertisement example, by putting women’s undergarments on a stereotypically macho figure to emasculate him, thus “fracturing the macho man’s sexuality,” are the activists really profoundly restructuring our social norms, or just evoking an age-old association of femininity with weakness and (in men) sexual undesirability (Jordan 106)? How do we determine when culture jamming is subversive in a meaningful and valuable way?

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